Rising Above it

From the Headmaster's Desk, November 13, 2017

Two weeks ago, I showed a clip of Jose Altuve hitting a home run in Game 5 of the World Series. A couple of nights later, his team went on to win the World Series. I noted that he was the most successful hitter in baseball this year.

After Assembly, someone remarked to me, ‘that hitter looked quite short’. And he is. In fact, at 5 foot and 6 inches, he is the shortest player in the entire league of Major League Baseball, which includes more than 1000 players. When he was a teenager in Venezuela, Altuve tried out for several baseball teams – attending dozens of try-outs for Major League teams. He was always cut on the first day and told that he was ‘too short’.

One morning, the day after being cut, he decided to turn up for the second day of try-outs with the Houston Astros. He thought maybe the scouts would forget that they had already cut him the day before, or maybe they would be too embarrassed to ask him to leave. He played as hard as he could that day and eventually one of the coaches made him a bare minimum offer of just over $10K. He was praised for his grit and scrappiness, but not considered talented.

Ten years after being cut by the Houston Astros for being too short, this season he was the greatest hitter in baseball and earned more than $6 million in salary. And he led his team to win the World Series.

Whilst Altuve is likely to be announced this week as the MVP (most valuable player) in all of baseball this year, his teammate George Springer won the MVP award for the World Series because he broke a record of hitting a home run four games in a row.

George Springer’s path to success was not easy either. He has a stutter. It is still noticeable when he’s interviewed, but he says it was much worse when he was at school. He worked with his parents and therapists to develop coping strategies.

George doesn’t make a big issue of it. ‘It’s not an issue, because it doesn’t hold me back. Some people have blue eyes, some people have blond hair, some people don’t. Some people stutter and some people don’t. People who do have it have to deal with it just like those who don’t have to deal with other things.’

Inspirational words from an inspirational person. I wanted to share these two stories with you partly because it allows me to talk about baseball one more time, but also because this week is anti-bullying week.

There are 2.3 million people that live in Houston and are still celebrating the World Series win – their heroes include a man who has a stutter and the shortest player in the game.

And the list of now famous people who had a difficult time in school is almost endless. Mila Kunis, the famous actress, moved from Russia to the US when she was seven, and struggled in school because she didn’t speak English. She was also bullied for being Jewish, and given a hard time for her big eyes.

Rihanna was teased for the colour of her skin when she was at school. Prince Harry was teased for the colour of his hair. Chris Rock was bullied as well, and said he developed his humour and wit as a response to bullies. Eminem had a difficult childhood and often had to move schools, and it was then made more difficult when he was beaten up for being the ‘new kid’.

So my message this morning in anti-bullying week is a simple one to victims of bullying: Hang in there, don’t be discouraged by naysayers, and draw on inspiration from the many others I have mentioned this morning, and many others who I have not; there are many successful people who had a difficult time as teenagers, but went on to do great things.

And my message to bullies: be careful. You may think some rude comments are funny now, but you may regret them later. One day you will all be adults, and you never know how successful those sitting around you may become, regardless of their age, gender, race, height, hair colour, religion, sexual orientation or disability. One day you might even apply for a job with someone sitting in this room, or ask them for an autograph. Clearly you want to be remembered well.

Nearly every day this term I am meeting prospective parents and pupils of the school, and dozens were here over the weekend sitting an entrance test. Applicants and their families often praise the sense of community we have at the School. I am proud of this as well; I am proud of how polite you all are and proud that you show care, consideration and courtesy in what you do. Let’s continue to look after one another so well, especially this anti-bullying week.

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